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HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, 



T March, 



9&f 



IV.— THE GOSPEL PIONEER IN WEST- 
ERN NORTH CAROLINA. 
By Professor E. F. Rockwell. 

The wise man asks, "what can the man do 
"that cometh after the King ? even that which 
"hath been already done." 

The same may be asked in regard to the 
labors and researches of Doctors William 
Henry Foote and E. W. Caruthers, in gather- 
ing and recording facts and traditions connect- 
ed with the early history of North Carolina, and 
especially that of the Presbyterian-church 
therein. 

But we think that some other things of in- 
terest can be gleaned with regard to one name 
that filled a prominent place in our church, a 
little more than a century ago — the name of one 
who was diligent and active, "in labors more 
"abundant," from 1715 to 1753, but who dis- 
appeared from public view, and sank into the 
grave almost unnoticed and unknown in this 
then wilderness, and not a stone tells where he 
was buried. 

We refer to the first Missionary and Gospel 
pioneer in Western North Carolina, Rev. John 
Thompson, who traversed this region before the 
days of McAdden, McWhorter, Spencer, 
Craighead, etc. 

He was a native of Ireland, and came to New- 
York, as a licentiate, with a family, in 1715. 
Soon after, he went to Lewes, in Delaware, and 
was ordained there, in 1717. After a few years, 
for want of support, in 1729, he went to New- 
castle in the same State, and remained there 
only till 1732, when he removed to Chestnut 
Level. In 1739, being appointed by Donegal 
Presbytery, to itinerate in the Valley of Virginia, 
he visited that region. 

A call for his labors was presented to his Pres- 
bytery, by the congregation of Opequhow, and 
he requested a dismission from his charge to 
remove to Virginia, but his request was not 
granted ; nor was he released till 1744, when he 
made his home in the Valley, being entrusted 
with the charge of missionary operations, in 
Western Virginia. In fulfillment of the duties 



of his office, this same year, he, for the first 
time, visited North Carolina. 

This must have been after May, of that year; 
for, in the Records of the Synod of Philadelphia, 
we find that "a representation from many 
" people of North Carolina, was laid before the 
"Synod showing their desolate condition, and re- 
' 'questing that Synod would take their estate into 
"consideration, and petitioning that we would 
"appoint one of our number to correspond with 
"them. Ordered, that Mr. John Thompson 
"correspond with them." What part of the 
State this petition came from, does not appear : 
in this part of it, the first settlements began 
between 1740 and 1750: in Jones's Defence, it 
is said that the first settlers in Mecklenburg 
came in 1750. Mr. Foote says, "Scattered set- 
"tlements were made along the Catawba, from 
" Beattie's Ford to Mason's, some time before 
"the country became the object of emigration 
"to any considerable extent, probably about 
"the year 1740. * * * "By 1745, the settle- 
" ments, in what is now Mecklenburg and Cabar- 
" rus-counties, were numerous; and, about 1750, 
"and onward, for a few years, the settlements 
"grew dense for a frontier, and were uniting 
"themselves into congregations."* It is prob- 
•able, then, that the evangelist visited, at that 
time, people who petitioned in Counties farther 
North and East, which would, naturally, be first 
occupied ; although, Wayne, Franklin, Caswell, 
Rockingham, etc., according to Doctor Car- 
uthers, were not settled till about 1750. t 

But he also says that; "From 1745 to 1758, 
"the two Synods of Philadelphia and New- 
"York appointed missionaries frequently to 
"North Carolina, as well as to the other Prov- 
inces of the South." Mr. Thompson did not 
probably remain long on that visit — Mr. Foote 
says that he was here at the time of his appoint- 
ment; and he is recorded absent from Synod, 
that year. That he was a prominent member 
of the Synod of Philadelphia, appears from his 
being appointed on important Committees to 
prepare papers, conduct correspondence, etc. 
Thus, in 1738, he was on a Committee to draft 
a letter in reply to a letter from the Synod in 
Ireland. At the same Session, he was on a Com- 
mittee to draft instructions for another Com- 
mittee to wait upon the Governor of Virginia 
to procure the favor and countenance of the 
Government of that Province, in behalf of the 
Presbyterian settlers in the back part of it. 
He was on the commission of Synod, in 1739; 
and attended most of the meetings of Synod 
to the time of his death, in 1753. 

He had no unimportant share in the division 



* Sketches of North Carolina, 201. 
t Life of Caldwell, 93. 






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HISTORICAL MAGAZINE. 



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of 1741, into what was called " The Old side" 
and " The New side." He took an active and, 
''in some respects, " says Doctor Hodge, "a very 
"mistaken part in opposition to Mr. Whitefield 
"and Mr. Tennent; yet no one can read his 
" writings without being impressed with re- 
"spectfor his character and talents. And it 
"is a gratifying fact that Mr. Tennent himself, 
"after the excitement of controversy had sub- 
" sided, came* to speak of him in terms of affec- 
" tionate regard. Indeed, were nothing known 
"of these men but their controversial writings, 
"the reader could hardly fail to think that, in 
' ' humility, candor, and Christian temper, Mr. 
" Thompson was greatly superior to his oppo- 
nent."* He published several discourses 
and, in 1741, a pamphlet on Church Govern- 
ment, which was answered by Rev. Samuel 
Blair, of New Londonderry, Pennsylvania. Of 
this answer — called A Vindication of those opposed 
to Mr. Thompson, — we have a copy. In 1742, he 
published a sermon on the Nature of Conviction 
for Sin and, in 1749, An Explication of the Shorter 
Catechism. Of this latter, we have often heard, 
in the country above us, but have never seen a 
copy : in Webster's History of the Presbyterian 
Church, one is spoken of in the hands of Rev. 
B. M. Smith, D.D., at Union Seminary, Virginia. 

His descendants, in this region, have a tradi- 
tion that he published something for the special 
benefit of his daughters, of whom he had three, 
his wife having died early. They probably 
allude to this Catechism. An old gentleman in 
this vicinity speaks of it as well known here, in 
early times, and in common use. 

And here, as the sentiments of the quotation 
are so valuable in themselves ; and as it serves to 
show both the talents 0*f the man and his piety, 
we cannot forbear to insert, in this article, an 
extract from his work on Church Government, 
made by Doctor Hodge, in his History of the 
Presbyterian Church, and with his introductory 
remarks :f 

"As it has become common to speak in very 
"disparaging terms of this gentleman [Rev. J. 
" Thompson |, and as he seems to have been a 
"really good man, it is a pleasure and honor 
"to be allowed to vindicate his memory. This 
"can best be done by letting the reader see 
"how he spoke of the state of religion in our 
"church, and of the duty of ministers, before 
"the convulsion which unhappily tore the 
"church asunder. In these reflections, after 
" describing the confusions and divisions which 
"had begun to prevail, he says to his brethren; 
" 'This matter belongeth unto us in a special 
"'manner — firstly, by virtue of our office 

* History of the Presbyterian Church, Part I., Pages 152, 159. 
t Ibid. Part I, pp. 160. 161. 



"'and station; and, again, because we have 
" 'had a guilty hand in bringing in the evil, 
" 'we should, therefore, strive and endeavor to 
" ' have a prime and leading hand in healing and 
" 'removing it. In order to this, I think these 
" 'things are undoubtedly incumbent on us: 
" 'First, that every one of us endeavor, with an 
" 'impartial severity, to examine and look back 
"'upon our past conduct and behaviour, as 
"'Christians and as Ministers of the Gospel, 
" 'calling and setting our consciences to work, 
"'to compare our past behaviour with the 
" 'divine law, which is holy, spiritual, just, and 
"'good; weighing ourselves in the balances 
"'of the sanctuary, with the same exactness 
" 'with which we expect to be weighed by our 
"'holy and impartial Judge, that we may be 
"'convinced how far we have come short of 
" 'our duty, even of what we might have done, 
" 'as Christians and Ministers, for the glory of 
" ' God, our own and others' salvation : and, es- 
" 'pecially, how far we have come short of that 
" ' exemplary piety, circumspection, and tender- 
"'ness of walk, and spiritualness of converse 
" 'with others, which, as Ministers of the Gospel 
"'of Christ, we should have studied, as also 
" 'how far we have failed in degree of love, 
" ' care, zeal, and tender concern for the souls of 
" ' men. 

" '2. Another thing incumbent on us is, that 
' ' ' whatever our consciences lay to our charge in 
" ' these matters, we confess the same before the 
" ' Lord, and bewail them with grief and sorrow 
"'of heart, in deep humiliation, earnestly pray- 
" ' ing for pardon : and resolving in the strength 
" 'of divine grace, to amend and reform all we 
" 'find wanting or amiss in these or any other 
' ' ' particulars, resolving still to grow in th e exer- 
" 'cise of every grace and the practice of holi- 
" 'ness. 

" ' 3. Another thing incumbent on us is, that 
' ' ' we labor to be possessed of an earnest care and 
" 'concern for the salvation of our own souls; 
"'and particularly to make sure of a work of 
" 'grace and regeneration in our own hearts, so 
" ' as never to be at ease and quiet without some 
" 'comfortable evidence of it, in the discernible 
" ' exercise of grace in our hearts, together with 
" 'the suitable genuine fruits of holiness in our 
" ' lives. 

" ' 4. Let us earnestly labor to get our affections 
" 'weaned from the world, and all sublunary 
" 'things, and to set them on things above, that 
" 'our love to God and to our Lord Jesus Christ, 
" ' our concern for his glory, in the faithful per- 
" 'formance of duty, or the promotion of the 
" 'kingdom of grace, by the conversion and edi- 
" 'fication of souls, may so employ and take up 
" ' our thoughts that all world-interests may ap- 
" 'pear but empty trifles in comparison with 



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[March, 



" 'these things' " * * * * " 'There is a great 
" ' difference between preaching the Gospel that 
" 'we may get a living, and to desire a living 
" ' that we may be enabled to preach the Gospel. 
" 'And happy is that minister who is enabled 
" ' cheerfully and resolutely to do the latter, and 
" 'truly and effectually to avoid the former. 

' • ' 5. Another thing to be endeavored by us, is 
" 'to strive to suit our Gospel ministrations, not 
" 'so much to the relish and taste, as to the 
"'necessities of our people; and, in order 
" 'thereto, to endeavor by all proper means to 
" 'be acquainted with their spiritual state, as 
" 'far as practicable, by us: that, knowing their 
" ' diseases and wants, we may know how to suit 
" 'our doctrine thereunto. And particularly we 
"'should endeavor to bend our forces and to 
" 'use our best skill to suit the prevalent dis- 
" ' temper of this carnal and secure age. striving 
" ' with all our might to rouse secure sinners and 
" 'awaken them out of their sleep; and drowsy 
"'saints from their slumber and carnal se- 
" ' curity. For this purpose, we should not only 
" ' assert and maintain the necessity of regenera- 
'" 'tion and converting grace, and of a righteous 
" ' and godly walk, and of increase and ad vance- 
" 'ment therein, but also endeavor to press the 
"'same home upon their consciences with all 
"'earnestness, as if we saw them perishing 
"'and would gladly be the means of their 
" ' deliverance. 

" '6. It would also contribute not a little to 
"•'promote and revive a work of grace, if we 
"' could effectually revive congregational dis- 
" ' cipline,in order to convince sinners and make 
" 'them ashamed of their scandalous outbreak- 
"'ings. For I am afraid that most of us are 
" ' too lax and remiss in this matter, so that the 
" ' highest privileges of Christ's church, I mean 
" 'external privileges, are too often given to 
" 'such whose conversation is very unsuitable 
" 'to them.' 

"These few extracts," says Doctor Hodge, 
"will show the spirit of the work, and the 
"manner in which the ' notorious Thompson,' 
" thought and wrote on these subjects. Such a 
"man does not deserve to have his name cast 
"out as evil." 

In 1745, he and Messrs. Alison, Steel, Griffith, 
and M c Dowell were appointed on a Committee 
to draw up a plan of union to be presented to 
the Presbytery of New-York. This was pre- 
sented, and we have it in the records of the 
Synod of Philadelphia for that year; but it 
proved unsatisfactory to the New-York brethren ; 
who proposed to erect an independent Synod. 
The same Committee was appointed to draw up 
an answer to this proposal — they did so, made 
their report, which was " approve?!." 

At the same meeting, he was also appointed on 



other important Committees ; where he was, for 
the next few years, does not appear. 

At the meeting of Synod, in 1/49, a Thompson 
was present; but it was probably Samuel, for, in 
the course of the Session, the delegates of the 
Synod of New- York were present and conferred 
with them about a plan of union, and it was 
' ' ordered that Mr. Griffith write to Mr. Thomp- 
"son, in Virginia, on this head," though his 
name is not recorded among the absentees. He 
was present, in May, 1750, and was appointed on 
a Committee to settle some difficulty at Brown 
Meeting-house, in Virginia ; and also to loose an 
obligation of marriage rashly entered into be- 
tween a young man and woman ; the former of 
whom was, it seems, culpable in the matter, and 
by order of Synod, was publicly admonished by 
Mr. Thompson. It appears, from the records of 
the next year, that he did not fulfill his appoint- 
ment in Virginia, and was excused. He was 
absent from the Fall meeting of that year ; but 
was in attendance, for the last time, on the 
twenty-seventh of May, 1752, when his "last 
"year's absence was excused for indisposition." 
On the twenty-fourth of May, 1753, it is re- 
corded that. "The Rev. Messrs. John Thompson 
"and Hugh Conn died since our last Synod; " 
and no further notice is taken of his death. 

He is disposed of, in Sprague's Annals of the 
American Pulpit, in a note of about ten lines in 
length. 

We have mentioned, some distance back, that 
he had three daughters : one of these was 
married to a Rev. Mr. Zanchey, who lived at 
Buffalo, Prince Edward, Virginia. Another to 
Roger Lawson, who removed from Iredell- 
county, then Rowan, North Carolina, to Georgia, 
the ancestor of Roger Lawson Gamble, a man 
of some prominence in that State, a few years 
ago, and a connection of Judge Hugh Lawson 
White, of Tennessee. A third one, but the order 
of their ages is not known, by the name of. 
Elizabeth, was married to a Mr. Baker, one of 
the oldest settlers on Davidson's-Creek, in the 
lower end of Iredell-county, and in what was 
afterwards Centre Congregation, near the road 
from Salisbury to Lincolnton, by Beattie's Ford, 
and about five miles from the latter. 

Now it appears from the traditions of the 
country, that he came out here to the house 
of his son-in-law, in the Summer of 1751, which 
explains, in part, why he was absent from the 
Fall meeting of Synod, in September of that 
year. He was the first Minister of the Gospel, 
probably, of any denomination, who visited this 
region, to preach. It is supposed that became 
at the solicitation of Moses Winslow, George 
Davidson, and other settlers on the same Creek, 
in the vicinity of his son-in-law, who had 
known him in Pennsvlvania. The latter was 



1874. 



HISTORICAL MAGAZINE. 



147 



living, in 1751, near the ford on that Creek, on 
the road, by Centre Church, to Statesville. He 
seems to have come out here for the purpose of 
remaining; and hence it is difficult to under- 
stand a statement in Foote's Sketches of North 
Carolina, page 213, where he speaks of "Mr. 
" Patillo and another young man, who had 
"engaged to go to Pennsylvania, and commence 
"their studies under the care and tuition of the 
" Rev. Mr. John Thompson, who was at this time 
"[1751] in Carolina on a mission to the new 
"settlements. While waiting, in the Summer 
"of 1751, for Mr. Thompson's return from 
" Carolina, the young man who had engaged to 
"go with Mr. Patillo, to Pennsylvania, 
"abandoned the design of preparing for the 
"ministry." . 

Like the prophet of old, travelling to the 
mount of God, the old man having fought a 
good fight and contended earnestly for the 
faith, in the Middle States and Virginia, took 
his staff and came to lay a foundation where 
others had not been before him. 

An anecdote is told of his travelling, from 
Prince Edward, here, on foot. At some house, 
where he lodged, he inquired, in the morning, 
how his horse had fared during the night. 
The lady of the house replied that he had 
fared very well, she knew, for she had fed him 
with her own hands. He said to her, "Do not 
"tell me a falsehood, my good lady, for that is 
"all the horse I have," pointing to his staff. 
While here, he visited the new settlements 
around, within a radius of twenty miles, from 
home. He had a stand, as it is called, for 
preaching, at William Morrison's, near Concord- 
church, on Third-creek, six miles North-west of 
Statesville ; another in the bounds of what is 
now Fourth-creek-church ; another in Third- 
creek congregation : another at Cathey's Meet- 
ing-house, (Thyatira) ten miles from Salisbury: 
another where was Osborne's Meeting-house ; 
another, just below Davidson College, a little 
-to the right of the road, near the lower end of 
the village, as you go South, where is now 
standing a large poplar tree, (liriodendron) 
about twenty feet in circumference, a little above 
the ground, beneath which, according to tradi- 
tion handed down by old men, they had preach- 
ing in the first settlement of the country; and 
some commenced burying their dead there, in ex- 
pectation of a church being erected on the spot. 
Probably, he had another stand further South, in 
the region of Hopewell and Sugar-creek 
Churches. It is said that he went on his cir- 
cuit on horseback, prepared to encamp when- 
ever night overtook him; hoppling his horse 
and turning him loose to feed upon the abun- 
dant and luxurious pea-vines which continued 
green nearly all winter. 



People, in these new settlements, went great 
distances to his appointments ; sometimes, it is 
said, he had twenty infants to baptise at one 
service. 

He made these circuits, and justly, sources of 
profit to himself, by looking out and having 
surveyed for himself, tracts of the best land, 
which he conveyed to his friends for a small con- 
sideration, as they emigrated hither. The deed 
from him, for a tract of six hundred and forty 
acres, on Fifth-creek, about five miles East of 
Statesville, to the father of the Rev. James 
Hall, D.D., is in our possession, witnessed by 
his daughter, Elizabeth Baker. Nine pounds, 
Virginia currency, is the consideration mention- 
ed in this deed — about thirty dollars. In it, 
mention is made of two other tracts surveyed for 
him, on the same Creek. The date is February, 
1752. The place where Colonel Thomas A. 
Allison now lives, on Fourth-creek,* three miles 
from Statesville, was surveyed for him, in 1751. 
We have spoken, above, of his making his home 
with his son-in-law, Baker ; but the latter was 
not a man of such habits as to be always agree- 
able society to the aged preacher, for we must 
suppose that he was at least sixty years old, by 
1753; and he had a cabin built a little distance 
from the house, in which he spent most of his 
time, when at home. And, at length, where he 
studied and prayed, there he died ; and where 
he gave up the ghost, there, under the floor of 
his cabin, as in the case of the great impostor, 
Mohammed, "he was piously interred, by the 
"hands of his nearest kinsman, on the same 
"spot on which he expired." t And where he 
was buried, there he will be raised, at the last 
day ; but no one now knows the very place — no 
monument was erected — an old lady, Mrs. 
White, who died a few years ago, could point 
out the part of the grave-yard in which he was 
laid; but not the exact spot. This was the be- 
ginning of what is known, in the country, to this 
day, as Baker's grave-yard — one of the oldest in 
this region. The matter of building a church 
near the spot seems never to have been agitated ; 
though it is a very uncommon thing for Presby- 
terians to deposit their dead, except where there 
is, or there is expected to be, a church erected. 
But most of the families, in the neighborhood, 
began to bury by the side of the grave of the 
man of God ; and they have, in many cases, con- 
tinued to do so, until the present day, though 
it is not on any public road, and a stranger 

* These creeks are affluents of the South Yadkin, and are 
reckoned First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, going West from 
Salisbury. 

t Student's Gibbon, 465. It is said that Doctor James Muir 
of the District of Columbia, was, at his own request, buried in a 
grave, thirteen feet deep, under his own pulpit. 



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HISTORICAL MAGAZINE. 



[March, 



might pass along quite near it, without knowing 
the vicinity of the sacred spot. The names of 
Brevard, Winslow, Wilson, Connor, M c Connel, 
Givens, Lawson, White, etc., are here found 
on the monuments. 

This daughter, who married a Baker, had a 
family of five children ; and her husband died 
soon after her father. One of her sons inherited 
the farm, and occupied the homestead, for a 
time ; when he, with other members of the 
family, migrated to the South-west. At the close 
of the late War, some young men, who had been 
in the Army, in Virginia, descendants of the 
family, came through the country to visit the 
old spot, cunabula gentis, of which nothing now 
remains but the cellar of the original dwelling- 
place, the house being transferred to the opposite 
side of the Creek. 

Mrs. Baker can hardly have remained long a 
widow, for she married, for her second husband, 
Charles Harris, of Cabarrus-county, and, in addi- 
tion to her former family, had two sons. 
The elder of these, Samuel Harris, went to 
Princeton-college, and was graduated, there, in 
1787; taught school, for a time afterward, in 
the Clio Academy, in Iredell-county, North 
Carolina ; returned to Princeton, and officiated 
as Tutor in the College, where he died in 1789. 
The second son, Charles, was born in 1762, and 
became the late Dr. Charles Harris, a physician 
of great repute in his day — the father of the 
present Charles J. and William Shakspeare 
Harris, who are among the most respectable 
citizens of the County. Mr. Hairis died on the 
fourth of July, 1776, and his wife a few weeks 
afterwards. 

It seems strange that a man of so much talents, 
piety, and usefulness — so prominent in the 
history of the Presbyterian-church, in this 
country — should thus have passed out of view, 
and the very place of his burial remain so long 
unknown. Webster's History of the Presbyterian 
Church quotes Dr. Alexander as saying, "He 
' ' lies in Buffaloe " [ Va ?] ' ' graveyard, without a 
"stone." Mr. Foote, the author of Sketches of 
North Carolina, when preparing that volume, 
seems not to have known the place, though he 
must often have passed along the public road, 
within a short distance of it — a cultivated field 
lies between it and the road leading from Salis- 
bury to Lincolnton. 

Rev. Messrs. M c Mordie and Donaldson were 
sent out by the Synod of Philadelphia, in 1753, 
with special direction to pay attention to the 
vacancies in North Carolina, between the Yadkin 
and Catawba-rivers. This would exactly cover 
the ground occupied by Mr. Thompson. That 
year, Rev. Hugh M c Adden was graduated at 
Princeton-college; and, in 1755, he was licensed 
and came through this region of country, on 



a missionary tour — he kept a journal of his 
travels and of the places he visited, a part of 
which is given in Foote's Sketches. 

From this, we learn that he passed South, and 
returned again, within two miles of Mr. Thomp- 
son's grave ; lodged repeatedly in the neighbor- 
hood ; preached at some of the same places as 
Mr. Thompson, in his circuit, yet makes no 
allusion to his predecessor, who had so recently 
died.* But we presume that most, if not all, the 
missionaries, who came to build onhis foundation, 
were men who sympathised, in opinion, with the 
New-side ; while he was the hated and maligned 
leader of the Old. The troubles of the Indian 
and French War, for a time occupied, a good 
deal of attention; there were no religious news- 
papers ; and few papers of any kind were publish- 
ed in the country. Soon, also, the disturbances 
and calamities of the old Revolutionary War 
came on. 

Born by the side of the river Foyle, in the 
North of Ireland, where he first opened his eyes 
on the world, he closed them, in the wilderness, 
on the banks of the Catawba: an ocean rolls 
between his cradle and his grave, the emblem 
of his stormy life. Ireland gave him birth ; 
Iredell-county a grave ; the heavenly Jerusalem, 
a final rest. 

E. F. R. 
Statesville, North Carolina.